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Monday, August 27, 2018

Aretha Franklin passed away without a will

By now, everyone is aware that Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, passed away a few days ago at the age of 76. Now reports are circulating that she did not leave a will disposing of her $80 million estate. One such report can be seen by clicking here (sorry about sending you to a site with so many ads; it's the tackiest looking website ever).

I understand that Ms Franklin was a resident of Michigan. I'm no expert on Michigan estate law, but I believe that it has the same sort of intestacy laws as most states and Canadian provinces. Ms Franklin wasn't married, to the best of my knowledge, which means that her four children should share her estate equally.

Having an estate paid out all at once to beneficiaries may or may not be the best idea. Certainly it's the quicker, cleaner route and the estate can probably be would up more quickly than if the shares of the beneficiaries were to be held in trust. But there are plenty of good reasons for setting up those trusts even if they take longer for the estate to wind up. For example, the article I mentioned above says that one of Ms. Franklin's children has special needs. It's pretty unusual for a parent even of modest means not to appoint a trustee for a child who cannot manage his or her own money. Trusts can also be used to protect beneficiaries from creditors and the division of assets on divorce.

It occurs to me that Ms. Franklin, who was by all reports ill with cancer, might have been considering what she would do with her estate and whether she wanted to set up trusts. After all, we do hear a lot of horror stories about rogue trustees, in-fighting among beneficiaries, and all sorts of trouble arising from greedy and dishonest people who get (or want to get) their hands on trust funds. I wonder if she heard some of this herself and was trying to avoid creating that sort of mess for her children.

It seems a lost opportunity to appoint someone Ms. Franklin trusted as her executor. And without a will, she could not make gifts to charities or to friends. We'll probably never know why she didn't make a will.

The image attached shows Aretha Franklin in 1969. The image accompanied an article in Daily Mail Online and is credited to NBC via Getty Images.

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